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A growing, if fleeting, tribute to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Flowers, candles and notes are carefully arranged at a roadside tribute in Tucson for the wounded congresswoman. The main message: 'Our prayers are with you Gabby.'

January 12, 2011|By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times
  • A tribute to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords grows outside her office in Tucson, Ariz.
A tribute to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords grows outside her office in Tucson,… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Tucson — The toughest thing is the wind.

It isn't particularly strong this day — it hasn't been since a gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head and killed six bystanders Saturday. But the messages appear on bits of paper so slim, sometimes almost insubstantial, that even a modest breeze could blow them away.

They're written on small pieces of notebook paper, manila folders or poster board, carefully placed at a growing roadside tribute. Some people figured out a way around the wind — on an electrical box on the street corner, right next to the bus stop, someone wrote with a black Sharpie: "Gabbie, we love you!" It's signed "the firefighters of Pomerene, AZ."

The tribute is instantly recognizable. It's part of a now-familiar landscape of public grieving. Drive north on Swan Road and suddenly you notice, on your left, a mass of flowers, balloons and more than 100 votive candles.

It's normally an unremarkable intersection. On one corner sits an auto parts store, on another a squat building housing a shop that sells gems and minerals, on another the red-roofed St. Cyril of Alexandria Roman Catholic Church.

Finally, there's the beige, two-story office building with the sign "Gabrielle Giffords United States Congress." People walk by, stand quietly, maybe snap a picture or two with their phones. Someone has hung a small crucifix over the first "t" in "States."

If folks come with a message, they struggle to make it as permanent as possible. One woman spent several minutes jamming a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers into the reddish-brown pebbles that take the place of lawns in this environmentally conscious desert town. A pair of retired friends carefully assembled glass candlestick holders to hold down messages written on pages torn from a small notepad.

Someone brought a big cardboard box and placed two bricks inside to weigh it down. Taped to the external sides are computer-printed messages.

One is emblazoned with the image of an old-fashioned clock. "We never know how much time we have," it reads. "Tell your family you love them. Let go of your past grudges. Show kindness to others. Appreciate every day."

There are clipboards with small cards on them and a box in which to put those cards, so people can write personal messages to Giffords or her staff. Sniffling somberly, a steady stream of people fills them out. But hundreds of people clearly wanted to leave public messages as well.

On lined paper from a spiral notebook is this handwritten missive: "Dear Mrs Gifford this is James Casaus I am 10 years old I have been hoping and praying for you to make a full recovery. Best wishes to you and your family."

Draped on a small grayish-white marble cross placed into the ground is a tag reading, "The Serpa family wishes you a speedy recovery."

In red and blue marker on poster board: "No one here is a stranger. For Gabby is Arizona's favorite daughter. Our prayers are with you Gabby."

On paper, weighted by tiny pebbles: "Our heartfelt prayers and sympathies goes out to the victims and families of all involved. Get well Gabby." The note is signed by the residents of three separate states.

You see lots of peace symbols, lots of succinct "Get well soons." Many resemble the heartfelt banalities of sympathy cards sold in drugstores. The tragedy remains bigger than any one person, than any single phrase. It's only when massed together on this corner that the written prayers, American flags, teddy bears and hand-drawn hearts begin to capture the pain.

Mourners haven't overlooked the sidewalk, writing messages carefully in white chalk undisturbed by the wind. Two messages stand out, quotations from public speakers who, in more peaceful moments, had time to arrange their thoughts and express their emotions and ideas in more permanent ways.

"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal." — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Then there is a longer quote, one that covers half the sidewalk.

"We know that silence equals consent when atrocities are committed against innocent men. We know that indifference equals complicity when bigotry, hatred and intolerance are allowed to root." — Gabby Giffords.

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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